The Populist Interviews: Marion Maréchal on Post-Covid Europe, French Elites, the European Union, and more
Marion Maréchal became involved in politics at a young age. At first as a mere grassroots activist in the National Front, founded by her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen. In 2012, she got into parliament from the party’s lists, as the youngest MP in the history of the French Fifth Republic. In 2017, she decided to withdraw from active politics, but only to continue to fight in the realm of ideas. She founded ISSEP (Institut des sciences sociales, économiques et politiques) school of political, social and economic sciences and an affiliated think tank. She is seen by many as the hope of the French Right, as speculations of her return to politics never seem to wane. Her speech at CPAC in the US in 2018 introduced her to the American Right. She has a little daughter. This year she married an Italian MEP, Vincenzo Sofo, a member of the right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia.
The following — part of a series of interviews on IM—1776 exploring ‘populism’ and its impact — is a slightly edited (for clarity) transcript of an interview which took place in Paris, on October 5, 2021.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Ms. Maréchal, how do you think has France and the world in general changed since the pandemic began? Do you think the new institution of Lockdown, the psychological effects on people, and the laws of the ‘New Normal’ such as masks and social distancing measures are here to stay?
Marion Maréchal: France remains one of the most restrictive countries in Europe. We have had a series of ridiculous moves, lies and incompetence, the level of which has been truly unbelievable. For almost two years now we have been living under a state of emergency regime that suspends the normal functioning of our institutions. The president and the government can violate fundamental freedoms with a simple decree. The courts and tribunals, of course, accept every decision of the government, without ever questioning it. Today we live with the so-called pass sanitaire [sanitary pass], which is vaccine coercion in disguise, because the unvaccinated are supposed to test themselves before every time they go to a café or a restaurant, or even a public hospital. If you’re not tested, you can’t even use the hospital that you pay taxes for. As of October, testing will no longer be free. In my opinion, we have entered the logic of the Chinese social credit system, and I say this weighing my words. We now have two categories of people, the vaccinated who are entitled to a normal life, and the unvaccinated whose lives are being made impossible. I am amazed by this, given that we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and the current epidemic situation does not warrant maintaining these measures. Even the Conseil constitutionnel [a body that determines the compliance of passed laws with constitution] has said that it only approves these measures on the condition that they are time-limited. So I think we have entered a period when reigns the logic of a state that claims to pursue the public ‘good’ despite the public will and regardless of the public’s wishes. Evidently these tools that the state has appropriated for itself during the epidemic can be used in the future for other policy purposes, i.e. for example, restricting movement in the name of ‘saving the planet’. I believe that everyone in Europe will be given a digital identity which eventually will contain all of our social, fiscal, banking and health information. When these tools end up in the wrong hands, it will bring about a level of social surveillance that is greatly concerning to me. One can imagine someone not paying a ticket tomorrow, or not being vaccinated and losing their right to live a normal life.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Sociologist Emmanuel Todd argues in his recent book La Lutte des classes en France au XXIe siècle that among the French elite there seems to be a desire for revenge against ordinary people. Especially in light of Macron’s harsh suppression of the Gilet Jaunes movement in 2019 and now his Covid policies, how likely do you think this is?
Marion Maréchal: Very. The French elites are not an aristocracy, that is, the best of the best, but simply people favored economically and socially. French elites have traditionally been fascinated by foreign models, whether English, German, or American. They’ve also historically loved to sacrifice French interests in the name of foreign ideas. This is a bad habit of our elites, which manifests itself with particular force under the Macron presidency, but also before that. You recall the European constitutional referendum of 2005, when the French people answered “No.” Shortly thereafter, Nicolas Sarkozy decided to adopt the Lisbon Treaty anyway, disregarding the popular will and ratifying changes that the French people had not agreed to. What’s clear is the electoral law in France is totally anti-democratic. It’s a two-round vote. In most EU countries one votes proportionally. But our system is different, and it distorts the popular side of democracy. The voters of Rassemblement National for example are proportionally under-represented, which creates strong popular frustration. Macron is not a unifying president; his victory was not based on consensus. He is the first president to openly insult the French people: he called the Gilets jaunes a “populist leper,” he calls unvaccinated people immoral and selfish. He issued very brutal orders against the Gilets jaunes. If the police treated protesters this way in Russia, for example, everyone would be screaming that we are dealing with a dictatorship. But it was Macron doing it so nobody raised a voice of criticism. Another issue is immigration, where the majority of French people say they have had enough, which the elites refuse to accept. This is a major example of this rift between the elites and the French people.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: You have previously said that the biggest problem in French politics is the failure to build a “fait majoritaire,” to create a consensus. Can you expand on this problem, and what do you think can be done to fix it?
Marion Maréchal: France suffers from a multitude of divisions. One important division is the territorial one, into metropoles and peripheries. This division is not specifically French, it can also be found in other countries, but here it is very pronounced. Big, globalized cities, inhabited by anywheres, and on the other side small cities, towns and villages inhabited by somewheres. The metropoles enjoy active public investment and infrastructure, but smaller centers are condemned to oblivion. There is a real imbalance here. The second divide is ethnic. Macron himself recently said that more than 10 million French people have family on the other side of the Mediterranean. I think this is a conservative estimate. The population of France is 60 million. Today, one-third of children born in France have at least one parent who is not from France. So this statistic does not include all those who are second or third-generation migrants. A great demographic shift is taking place, in addition to this is the religious divide. Immigration to France is primarily from Africa and the Maghreb, and primarily Muslim. Historically, there has never been this level of Islamic immigration into France. Today we have more practicing Muslims in France than practicing Catholics. And we must be frank about this, many Muslim beliefs and customs are incompatible with the French way of life. Another division is the cultural one, which is also related to the issue of immigration. I will give you an example: There used to be a common cultural template. Everyone, whether they came from the lower classes, the wealthy bourgeoisie, or the aristocracy, bore the same first names: François, Jean, Christine, and so on. Today, social divisions have become so powerful that names have become strong sociological indicators. Names are given according to social strata. This is symptomatic because names are the most visible manifestation of belonging to a common cultural matrix. Because of these divisions, most politicians do not fight for a majority, do not strive for consensus, because it has simply become unattainable. The electorate is built by adding up minorities, but no one cares about creating a unifying vision, an idea of common destiny. From my point of view, this is the biggest political challenge in France: to form a consensus, a consensual vision. I have no ready-made solutions here. This is the reason why our democracy works so poorly, this is why we have so many protests in the streets, because democracy does not work properly without “fait majoritaire.” When this element is missing, we are left with a war of the minorities and that is what we are seeing. This war is also fueled by the individualism which has taken hold in Western societies. In France, which is very de-Christianized, individualism has developed exceptional force. Very interesting from this perspective is the data on people who aren’t voting. The number of people who do not vote has grown considerably since Macron’s victory. The record was broken during the last regional elections. Jerôme Fourquet explains in one of his articles that this has to do with the fact that people see voting as a civic and communal act, but they themselves have a consumerist approach to elections. They don’t think in terms of community, especially the young, in whom materialism and individualism are most prominent. We face the great challenge of how to maintain social cohesion, and it’s not going to be an easy task.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Is Éric Zemmour, in your opinion, capable of creating this majority, this “fait majoritaire”?
Marion Maréchal: Zemmour speaks for the silent majority, a majority that has been silent for too long. In France, this silent majority — which I think is still a majority — lives in a state of civilizational anxiety. It feels that its culture, land and history are being taken away from it. This majority does not always express this feeling, after all, it is an emotion, and it is difficult to find a political form for it. But I believe that Zemmour articulates a concern that most French people feel today. The conviction that there is too much immigration prevails throughout society.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: In 1961, 35% of French people went to mass every Sunday. Today only 6%. Should the role of Catholics in France and in Europe now be that of a “creative minority,” as Raztinger wrote?
Marion Maréchal: Yes, when I talk about it abroad, people refuse to believe me. France was described by John Paul II as “the oldest daughter of the Church.” The history of France has been the history of Christianity. Again, today we have more practicing Muslims than practicing Catholics. Since the Revolution, the process of de-Christianization has steadily progressed. In France, the anti-clerical current, or really just the anti-Catholic current, has been really strong, fighting against any manifestation of Catholicism in the public space. Every year the debate about Christmas cribs returns, there is a scandal that some mayor allowed himself to put up such a crib in his townhall, while it is an old French tradition. Opinion polls show that the French have nothing against it, but the radical left fights with fanaticism against these cribs. Alongside this hatred of Catholicism, there is Islamophilia on the left. A Muslim, in their eyes, is a victim of oppression. This is why, for example, the Green mayors who refused to participate in the procession with the bishops in Lyon, although it is an old tradition, were nonetheless present at the opening of a mosque the next day. This is the great French paradox. Catholics are a minority in France today. Nonetheless, history is written by creative minorities. It’s not the majority that creates history, it’s the vigorous minorities that this majority eventually follows. Today, this Catholic minority has become militant, they are becoming aware that they are a minority, and that they have to put up a fight. For a long time Catholics did not understand that they were a minority. It was immigration that exposed the state of affairs to them, including through many Christianophobic acts. Not a week goes by in which a church is not set on fire, an act of vandalism is not committed in churches, sacred statues or shrines are not destroyed and hateful graffiti is not smeared. There are incomparably more anti-Christian acts than anti-Muslim acts in France today. The atmosphere of Islamophilia and Christianophobia causes a certain civilization anxiety, leads many people to search for their own identity, and this identity in France is Catholic. So I am convinced that this minority will have enough determination to influence politics in the years to come.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Is a renewal of France possible within the European Union?
Marion Maréchal: It will be very difficult. One thing that needs to be understood is that there has been a huge transformation in the EU. It was built by Christian Democrats, primarily focused on the common market. It began with six countries, and this, too, must not be forgotten, because a common market for six countries is much easier to coordinate than a market for 27 countries. But then the project was taken over by the progressive left. The EU has become a project of left-wing activists. Even recently it released a document that talks about “men being pregnant” — so we are descending into madness. Today the EU is definitely overstepping the boundaries of the treaties, seizing on topics that should remain outside its remit. Every day we see how the principle of subsidiarity, which was one of the founding principles of the EU, is being undermined. Every day we see how the distinctiveness of individual nations is being undermined, in a forced march towards a federal project. The question also remains, what is the EU supposed to be? Is it to be an independent power, independent of America as well as China and Russia, which is the traditional French vision, or is it to become part of the Atlantic system, placing its defense in the hands of NATO? This is a real, serious strategic discussion that needs to take place. If you take for example what the Americans have done regarding the French submarines it shows that, in a clash with China, the American interest will always prevail over friendship with its allies. And, of course, they are right in a way. The United States has always acted in a way that their own interest takes precedence over the interests of their allies. In my view, for France to defend a vision of an independent Europe, it cannot tie itself too tightly to Germany. Germany, which after all exports so many cars to America cannot be in favor of this vision. Or they are at least torn. Germany lives in fear that if it were to support strengthening the European market against the competition of American markets, the U.S. would impose sanctions on it or hinder its exports. However, they will have to change their attitude if we consider, for example, Nord Stream II. Germany cannot make up its mind and clearly bet on an independent Europe. Therefore, France has to break out of the illusion concerning the ‘Franco-German couple’. Belief in this illusion leads to one place: towards a German Europe. German hegemony contradicts the spirit of Europe. Accordingly, France must work out new alliances according to circumstances, with the countries of Eastern Europe when it comes to civilization, social issues, or immigration, with its allies in the south when it comes to economic issues. We are the big losers of the Eurozone. Eastern European countries have fortunately not shared this fate. For us, this remains an important issue. We must be able to defend the common market against countries that engage in unfair competition, that do not respect our social or environmental standards, and therefore have an advantage over our markets, contributing to the impoverishment of the EU, and relocations. France must become one of the actors that will reorient the EU. If we don’t, more Brexits will inevitably follow.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Jacques Juillard argued recently that the West is currently living in the third post-war period, after the end of the Cold War and the heyday of liberal capitalism, and that we have now entered the “populist era.” Do you agree with him?
Marion Maréchal: It all depends on what we mean by “populism.” In France, it has two meanings. One of them, the most common in public debate, is a form of criticism. For left-wing journalists and politicians, a populist is a demagogue, an incompetent person and, at the end, a right-wing extremist. The term is deployed as a weapon to deprive the opponent of credibility, a kind of moral attack. If this is what populism is, I don’t identify with it, and I don’t want to use this term. But there is also another definition, taken from political science, where we have stricter criteria. Here we discover a phenomenon which exists both on the Right and on the left in many different countries. One criteria is a defense of direct democracy against representative democracy. Populism here consists in defending the people against the elites. Another characteristic of populism is a charismatic leader. When you add up these criteria, you can see that parties of both the Right and the left have emerged in recent years that work within this logic. But are we still in a populist moment? I’m not sure. I think it lasted from 2012 to 2017. It is possible that the EU, having been frightened by this populist moment, also personified by Trump or Bolsonaro, has sealed the system. Italy, for example, has moved to the left and it is possible that they will stay there after the ‘Salvini moment’. In Italy, they say, even when the left loses, it wins. Will Orban win the next election? I hope so, although he has a broad coalition of enemies against him. Will PiS win again in Poland? Germany, seemingly, is in the hands of the liberals again. France experienced this populist moment in reverse and elected Macron, the embodiment of the multiculturalist, immigrationist, and pro-EU establishment. The fate of populism, understood as the fate of the governing populist parties, is difficult to predict and one may doubt whether they will remain in power in the future. The populist mechanism, on the other hand, will remain strong. But will it be able to find articulation and gain power everywhere? That is less clear now.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: In his book Le Moment Populiste, Alain de Benoist argued that the ‘traditional’ horizontal divide between left and Right is becoming increasingly obsolete, and that this division is being replaced by a vertical axis, i.e. the uprooted oligarchy versus the people. Do you find this assessment accurate?
Marion Maréchal: There are a lot of divisions in politics and all of them are justified in their own way. The division between globalists and supporters of national sovereignty is broadly accurate, and the division between elites and the people also contains a lot of truth. But there are two levels in politics, the plane of ideas and the plane of practical politics. There are plenty of ideas that are intellectually satisfying, but are difficult to translate to the political level. In France, for example, no one says they are a globalist, or calls themselves a conservative, for various historical reasons about which we could discuss at great length. In the general consciousness, the division between left and Right remains the clearest division. For most people, the Right is the nation, tradition, values, heritage, order, de Gaulle. But it is true that the division between left and Right is also unsatisfactory. When the Front National declared itself neither left nor Right, it meant neither the PS [Parti Socialiste, mainstream left] nor the UMP [Union pour un mouvement populaire, now Les Républicains, mainstream Right], that is, the left and Right as embodied by these parties. In reality, irrespective of whether the PS or the UMP was in power, the differences in their governments were minor, if not imperceptible. I also think it is worth asking ourselves whether the division between progressives and populists is not simply a new form of the division between left and Right. One could say that both have undergone a definite evolution. I believe that these two categories are still helpful when it comes to political self-definition, but I agree, they have their limitations.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: In an interview with IM—1776 Thierry Baudet said that Trump (and Boris Johnson) made him “very skeptical of our capacity to achieve anything via democratic means.” The late Angelo Codevilla also claimed, for example, that Trump “barked a lot and bit only a little.” What lessons can populists learn from Trump’s presidency and his failures?
Marion Maréchal: Well, the American system is very different from the French system. Nevertheless, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the power of the deep state, which is particularly strong in the United States, but which is a problem everywhere. When you win an election, you need to have a machine behind you to implement the policies that the voters voted for. Under Sarkozy’s presidency in France, it was a real drama for the Right to achieve this. But when the left wins, they nominate who they want. That’s what Macron did, he changed a lot of the heads of different services and agencies. The Right is afraid of doing this. When it comes to power, its afraid that it will be called ‘fascist’ and so it does what the left wants. So when the Right was in power in France, the administration remained in the hands of the left. This resulted in a political blockade. The government didn’t get the necessary information, it didn’t have the resources to carry out its policies well. The secondary element is the intellectual centers, media and universities, where the left reigns supreme. The Right will need to make a great effort to create alternatives here through grassroots, social initiatives. Now in France some right-wing voices are appearing in the mainstream media, but they are still insignificant, timid. Above all, I believe that we must not allow our initiatives to depend on the state, to rely on its resources. We must not allow the end of our government to mean the end of us all. This is a big problem, and the reason why I founded the ISSEP. Change has to be made from the top down, but it will never succeed if we don’t create islands of resistance from below that persist even when the government changes. It is necessary to build islands of resistance in society; it is through them that we will win. I often quote Gramsci, but it was not only Gramsci who said this: political victory comes only after a cultural victory. There are no political victories without cultural victories.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: In Europe, we read mostly American authors, few European authors, and we are not interested at all in the Asian experience. Do you agree that the intellectual horizon of the Right and the populists is rather limited, and that we could learn a lot from Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, or the experience of South Korea or Japan?
Marion Maréchal: Yes. In France we have a lot of trouble learning languages, especially English! But I would say that there is a certain interest in conservative ideas, and not only American, but also Russian, Canadian or Quebecois. We have very little familiarity with German or Swiss conservatism. We are beginning to take some interest in the conservatism of Central and Eastern Europe, thanks to governments there whose voices are increasingly heard. It is in the interest of the French Right to look at what is happening in these countries. You are correct, though, that we have very little understanding of Asian countries. I think it is also because the mentality of Asian countries and their problems are different from ours. Japan rejects immigration completely, and their problems are different, they have a different geopolitical environment and different political and mental horizons. What is interesting is how these countries, primarily South Korea have gone from third to First World in a short period of time, becoming countries to be reckoned with, and gaining such a significant position technologically. What’s interesting is how these countries have transcended their geopolitical conditions through technology. Demographics are not everything, and these countries are showing that through technology you can get among the important players. For that reason, you’re right, these countries should be of interest to us.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: Don’t you tihnk it’s true that in order to maintain our sovereignty — whether as Europe in general or as individual nation states — we need to regain our technological sovereignty? And if so, is the EU the main obstacle to regaining this technological sovereignty, or is it simply a misused tool?
Marion Maréchal: Well, first, we need to make a distinction between independence and sovereignty. Sovereignty is national sovereignty, and for that, you need a nation. The nation is the foundation of democratic legitimacy. I do not believe that there is one European nation. There are many European nations. For this reason, I do not believe in a federal state, because it cannot be sovereign if there is no nation. From this point of view, it is unrealistic to want to create a United States of Europe. At the same time, I believe that starting from sovereign nations, we can agree and express the will for an independent Europe. We live on one continent, we belong to a single civilization, and we have common geopolitical and economic interests. The European problem is like a game of tug-of-war. If our team wants to win, we must all pull in one direction. If one pulls left, the other right, and the third to the center, nothing will come of it. First, there must be a will to independence. Does everyone have it? This is not certain. The issue of sovereignty or digital independence is primarily a technological infrastructure issue. So the issue is primarily about the US, but also to a lesser extent about China. It is about issues like data, privacy, freedom of speech, industrial espionage, extraterritoriality of US law. The EU should be a major actor in all these areas. Unfortunately, there is a lack of will among European elites, and even a lack of interest in these issues.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: In many ways, Biden’s sudden exit from Afghanistan was catastrophic. What do you think this symbolizes for America and the West in general? Do you believe this is further proof of Western decline?
Marion Maréchal: The US should never have entered Afghanistan. And France should maintain its diplomatic singularity, the principle of not intervening unless a specific situation touches our vital interests. Unfortunately, France surrendered this distinctiveness years ago to conform to the neoconservative American vision. The consequences can be seen today. The Taliban could not have won if the population on the ground had undergone a conversion to American values. Hearts and minds are not persuaded by force. There were a lot of other factors at play there, such as corruption, etc., but we clearly need to learn a lesson from this and also learn prudence. The price of these interventions is not only paid by the United States, but by Europe, through mass migration and also terrorism. The same thing happened with Syria and Libya, which today is a failed state. I hope that this will be a lesson for all of us.
Tyszka-Drozdowski: I’d like to close by asking you the same question Alain Peyrefitte once asked de Gaulle… Will France always exist?
Marion Maréchal: I hope so. I don’t even want to ask myself that question. I cannot allow it to be otherwise. France is the land of my ancestors. I come from region of Bretagne and I cannot imagine that the land of my ancestors, where they have been buried for a thousand years, could be abandoned. I refuse to pose that question to myself. I draw hope from the history of France, and of Poland, and of Hungary. We in France have never felt the existential fear that we might disappear like the Hungarians or the Poles have. Poland lived through the partitions, always between the threat of German or Russian hegemony. Hungary had to face Ottoman invasions and resist colonization by Austria. In our history we have never experienced this fear, the fear that we might cease to exist. Today we are beginning to feel it, it is something new for us. It has different manifestations, it is something new in our history. We have had great collapses in history, like 1940, like the defeat at Sedan, the religious wars or the Revolution. But we have also had great resurrections. Like Jeanne d’Arc, the enigma, how to understand her? She was 19 years old and she led the liberation of France from English domination. That is a miracle of history. If this historical miracle happened once, and it was accomplished by a 19-year-old, there is still reason to hope, to believe that this thousand-year-old nation has hidden resources that we do not suspect. I believe that the French will still surprise us and that they have enough vitality not to be buried by history.